Implementing Literacy Centers in Upper Grades

Do you feel a little stressed when you hear the word "centers"? Upper elementary teachers often relate the word "center" to cute, time consuming, and busy work. Although, those can be what centers are, but that's not what they should be in your classroom.

Centers or Stations should require students to focus on the domains of reading, require them to apply skills that have been taught, and quality rather than quantity should be your main focus. Once you have your Guided Reading system figured out, your next step is to determine what the rest of your class is doing while you meet with your small groups. 

When setting up your centers you need to determine if your students are going to rotate, work off of a menu/contract, how many centers are they required to complete each day, etc. Don't be afraid to try different ways of implementing centers in your classroom. What works for the teacher across the hall may not work of you or your students. Once you have determined your rotation or menu now you need to decide what your students are going to work on.

1. Silent Reading/Read to Self

As educators we know the importance of sitting down and reading a text, so why not make it an option during your centers. If your school doesn't have a set time for silent reading then this is the first center I would implement. Students can silently read a text of their choice for a set amount of time. Allowing students to have a book bin or bag full of texts ensures they have enough reading materials, providing them choice, and teaching them it's okay to abandon a book but not the center.

2. Comprehension Center

In the upper grades comprehension of the five domains of reading is one we focus on more than others. Having students complete an assignment or task related to the text you read during shared reading, or directly related to the standard you are currently teaching, makes a wonderful literacy center. Students can complete task cards, passages, and or text dependent questions.

3. Word Work

Students should work on the meaning of words and not just how to spell words during this center. Providing them with a variety of activities to keep them engaged is key. In the upper grades of elementary I suggest using the standards to help you and your students focus on what to utilize in your word work center. Example synonyms, antonyms, prefixes, root words, and suffixes are great place to start. I love the free activities Melissa from Upper Elementary Snapshots offers in her post. Kristen from Chalk & Apples has a wonderful product for Word Work and Spelling centers for upper elementary.  Please, Please, Please I beg you NOT to include "Rainbow Writing" in your spelling center. There is never an appropriate time for 3-5 students to participate in this activity.  Your center should always provide meaningful learning opportunities for your students.

4. Technology

Utilizing technology in your literacy centers is a great way to engage students. Even if you have limited technology there are some great ways to utilize what you have. If you have one or two computers or tablets you can pull up a set of task cards you have purchased or downloaded in pdf format. Students can work independently, in pairs, or in a team to solve the questions on the task cards. Students can record their answers on a sheet of paper or journal as they use the arrow keys to scroll down through the questions.  Here is a free copy of my Point of View task cards for you and your students.

Here are a few of our student's favorite websites for ELA:

 For non-fiction text National Geographic Young Explorer is a great site.

This is my boys' favorite!

Last year my son's teacher utilized Big Universe for Guided Reading Groups, Centers, and Homework!

5. Writing

I love planning for my writing center!  For me this is the easiest to plan for :)  Students can work on their independent writing assignment, journal write, work on grammar skills, conference with a peer, etc. The possibilities are endless! In this center I would keep a variety of resources for your students to access to help them with the writing process.  A mentor text, writing office, pictures or copies of Anchor charts, variety of writing utensils, writing prompts, wordless picture books, etc.

How to Implement centers the first month of school....

I hope these ideas will help you start planning for your ELA block this coming school year. When you start to implement Guided Reading and centers the key to a successful year of centers is to train your students on how to complete each center.  You should introduce ONE center a week for the whole class. During this time you will teach your expectations for their voice volume, work requirements, and how to ask and answer their classmates questions because you are not to be interrupted when you are with a group.

For example I always introduce my silent reading center first. For the first week on Monday I explain the center, students will silently read with their book bin on their desk. I explain that my expectation is for them to read silently, any book from their book bin, and to complete a written summary of what they read in their journal. I remind them that I am not to be interrupted when meeting with a student or group of students. Once I tell them to begin their Silent Reading center I sit at my Guided Reading table and will call a student over to complete a reading assessment, usually a Running Record.  After 10-20 minutes I stop my students and praise them for meeting my expectations and address any issues that may have come up.

I complete these same steps for the rest of the week, slowly increasing their silent reading time to equal the amount of time I plan for them to be in this center. If you plan to allow your students to choose where they are going to sit I suggest allowing them to do so towards the end of the week. The second week I introduce a new center. For example it might be comprehension center, again I teach my expectations and review my expectations for silent reading center. Once students have completed the new center they will then move onto silent reading. Again, I will assess students for beginning of the year data.

I continue to introduce a center a week until all centers have been taught. As I complete my one-on-one assessments I will call a small group, 3-4 students, to my GR table to read a text. By doing this I am able to teach my students my expectations for moving from their center to me and my expectations for GR groups.

Implementing centers takes about a whole month, but worth the time! Once your students understand what you expect of them and are able to meet those expectations your ELA block will run smoothly for the remainder of the year. If you introduce new centers throughout the year it will not take as long to implement because your students will have the rest of them down.

To assist students on knowing what center to complete and when many teachers use a rotation chart.

I've added a color version and a black & white version of this board as a freebie in my Teachers pay Teachers store.

I hope this has helped to get you started for planning and implementing centers in your classroom this school year.


  1. Which font did you use for the Center Rotation Board? I wanted to update the blank cards with Teacher's choice, but I wanted it to match. Thanks!

  2. You are so right that literacy centers in upper elementary aren't just "cute" busy work for students! Thank you for including helpful links with your ideas. Great post!

    Tanya G. Marshall--The Butterfly Teacher


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